Good news for Governor McCrory: the state’s falling unemployment rate. The Department of Commerce revealed yesterday that the unemployment rate in North Carolina is holding steady at 5.4%, below the national average. When McCrory was elected in November 2012, the state rate was 9.1%, well above the national rate of 7.7%.

Carolina Comeback? Those on the left scoff. But figures don’t lie. OK, maybe they do, sometimes, but there’s no disputing that the numbers have changed. That North Carolina’s unemployment rate was once higher than the national rate and is now below it is a powerful argument in McCrory’s favor as he seeks reelection next year. Some voters might not feel the recovery, but then again there were a fair amount of people back in 1984 who weren’t doing so well economically but believed it was “Morning in America” because there was a sense of economic renewal after years of malaise.

That’s not to say McCrory’s reelection will go as smoothly as Reagan’s was in 1984. Pat McCrory is not Ronald Reagan and Roy Cooper won’t be Walter Mondale. The Democrats’ most powerful argument remains that, after decades of being a leader in the South, North Carolina is no longer investing in its schools or in its people, and the General Assembly, with the full support of the governor, has embraced an agenda that is more concerned about protecting the wealthy than securing the middle class. The state has a unique tradition of progressivism that, at first glance, would make it ill-suited to a political philosophy based in purely Austrian economics. If Cooper seizes on this, he’ll be a tough opponent. But he’ll need to be supported by facts, not just rhetoric.

McCrory’s argument will be much different. He’ll say that after years of high taxes, laws hostile to business, and sluggish economic growth, under his leadership the state has cut taxes, stripped away burdensome regulations, and gotten North Carolina moving again. Why, then, should we go back to the failed liberal policies of the past? The falling unemployment rate, and other economic measures, will be important statistics to back up his message.

The recovering economy, not just in NC but nationally, is McCrory’s biggest asset as he gears up for reelection. There’s a perception that things are getting better. Roy Cooper is going to have to fight that perception, or at least make the case that North Carolina isn’t doing as well as the rest of the nation. Given the numbers, that might be a hard thing to do. And that’s why, a little less than 20 months before he goes before the voters once again, Pat McCrory is a very slight favorite for a second term.

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